When a holographic Tupac Shakur wowed Coachella crowds this month, we all knew it was more than a ghoulish optical illusion. There was a shared sense that it was a watershed moment in pop history — a sense that the border between life and death had been breached, and it could never be repaired.
The short-term aftermath mostly involved shitty jokes, which entered the knee-jerk Jay Leno phase just days after the incident. An early joke casualty was poor Dick Clark, the first celebrity to die in the post-hologram-humor climate. Search Twitter for "Dick Clark hologram" to witness 10,000 idiots thinking they got to the joke first. Don't expect the jokes to slow down anytime soon, or get any better. (Note: while Tupac hologram jokes will stop being funny, the Tupac Hologram itself will never stop being funny; the actual Tupac Hologram is hilarious, and always will be.)
In the long run, though, Tupac will haunt us in more meaningful ways. MTV News columnist James Montgomery posits that the ghostly Pac is the first step on a slippery slope toward total desecration. "Imagine how you'd feel," suggests Montgomery, "to see [Kurt] Cobain's hologram flailing around on stage, puppet-like, while a faceless backing band bashes through the Nirvana catalog? It's a pretty gross idea, yet it's not all that inconceivable." He may be right. In fact, it seems highly unlikely that nobody will ever try this ghastly stunt again, so we're almost sure to see dead legends paraded around for our amusement. Maybe not Kurt— unless Courtney Love needs money and sells out his image, but how often does that happen?
Slippery slopes aren't that much fun unless you follow them all the way down, right? Trust me, it can get much worse than reviving the Beatles.
The technology is sure to inspire cheap knockoffs, and disrespectful b-list holograms will inevitably run rampant. Cloudy, low-budget Joey Ramone will glitch around the stage like Max Headroom. Milli will vamp nervously as a reanimated Vanilli gets stuck in an endless flickering Princess Leia loop. The popular Coolio Hologram will trip and fall into the crowd, revealing itself as nothing more than a still-living Coolio covered in glitter.
And what about cases of warring estates? The fragmented Hendrix family might lead to multiple, competing holographic Jimis; the official Experience Hendrix LLC Jimi could be playing Madison Square Garden while the quasi-legal Leon Hendrix knock-off shreds hollow MIDI solos on a county fair stage, light bleeding from between its jagged polygons, always one step ahead of the lawsuit.
Further down the slope: the music business already knows that dead artists sell — you'll recall the Michael Jackson chart domination or Sony's ghoulish price hike on Whitney Houston records in the hours after she died. Even after the first wave of death-boosted sales, the industry can coast for decades on posthumous releases, compilations, merchandise, and licensing. The only major revenue stream missing is live touring; now that we've got that taken care of, there's really no financial incentive to want artists alive anymore.